A local restaurant is proving that a hands-on approach to business and word-of-mouth advertising is the key to success, despite industry struggles caused by chain restaurant competition.
Before it was Bim Bam Burgers, the building at 2204 Jackson Avenue West in Oxford, housed another burger place – Christy’s. In early 2013, Tony Barragan, one of Bim Bam’s co-founders, took a job as the restaurant’s general manager. Several months later when the failing business was sold, he asked friend Yerby Weaver to be his partner in a new restaurant venture.
Weaver had worked with his father in the air conditioning field his entire life, but decided to leave the familiar and give it a shot. However, when Weaver arrived in Oxford, he quickly realized the challenge he had agreed to take on.
“I came in, and the place was a wreck,” he said. “Employees were falling asleep in the back. Cashiers were rude to customers. So we told the owner we were gonna take it on and cleaned house. We knew we were gonna have to re-recipe, re-brand, re-menu, everything.”
During this time, the new owners struggled to break free from the negative reputation of the prior business model. Weaver and Barragan later decided to forge their their own identity. With Ole Miss as the heart of Oxford, it was fitting that a school chant would inspire their next move.
“I remember a little girl came in with a shirt that said ‘flim flam bim bam’ on it, and we both looked at each other and said ‘Bim Bam Burgers,’” Weaver said.
Thus, Bim Bam Burgers was born Aug. 1, 2013. In the four years since, the restaurant has thrived thanks to Weaver and his team, but not without business struggles.
“During those first six months where we weren’t doing much, we were thinking: ‘We messed up. We need to go back to our old jobs,’” Weaver joked.
Despite these initial hurdles, Weaver still believed in what they were building. “I knew that if we had good food coming out of the kitchen and polite cashiers, that it would work itself out.”
When they liked what Bim Bam offered, good reviews began pouring in, and so did new customers. Word of mouth is the best advertising, according to Weaver.
Business grew their second year, but that success would not last forever. Weaver said this past year has been a difficult for all local restaurant owners because of the flooded market of competing businesses, mostly chain restaurants.
Weaver and his delivery driver counted 72 restaurants just between the Domino’s and Walmart on Jackson Avenue. At Bim Bam, they have done what they can to adjust to this new normal. “You’ve just got to get used to a smaller piece of the pie,” explained Weaver.
Even with all the food options in Oxford, Weaver still thinks Bim Bam offers something special. He is proud of their use of fresh ingredients, saying they make all the difference. Bim Bam has also expanded their menu to include things like catfish, po’ boys, and wings. Weaver’s primary concern is offering good food at a competitive price.
One of the largest struggles of running Bim Bam is making people aware of its presence. Of all the different advertising methods he has tried, Weaver said running ads on the Ole Miss jumbotron was by far the most successful. However, it is too expensive to advertise that way consistently. Bim Bam has grown a sizable local customer base that keeps the restaurant afloat even during the months college students are away.
According to Weaver, the biggest problem he faces is finding quality employees. Bim Bam has opened three other locations since its founding – in Tupelo, New Albany and Batesville. The latter is the only one still open outside of Oxford. Weaver attributes these closings to poor management and internal theft incidents.
In light of these closings and preferring a hands-on approach, Weaver is concerned with the continued success of the Oxford branch. His team includes employees who have been at Bim Bam since the early days and new team members. Both sides see the experience of working there as overwhelmingly positive.
Jamaal Ellison, who has worked at Bim Bam for over three years, said he has gotten comfortable at the restaurant. “As long as you work hard, it’s all good,” he said. “We get the work done, and then we have fun.”
Alexander Griffin, an Ole Miss junior who has been cooking at Bim Bam for only a few weeks, said he prefers this new work environment to most other jobs he has had. He attributes this to the lack of many frustrations found when working in a more corporate space.
“This is actually my first time working for a local business,” he said. “Now, I wish I’d done something like this sooner in my hometown.”
Despite the ups and downs, Weaver is proud of what he has accomplished and thankful to be where he is.
“I love how peaceful it is here,” he said. “I love the camaraderie with Ole Miss. It’s like a dream come true.”